Tonight in Las Vegas, the first half of the Welterweight Final Four began with division godfather Oscar DelaHoya facing the stiffest challenge of his career in the form of Ike "Bazooka" Quartey. It was a fight that promised to test The Golden Boy, and a fight that delivered on it's promise.
Entering the ring, the stronger, larger Quartey looked calm, cool and collected. His ripped physique glistened from a pre-fight warm-up that began nearly an hour before he left the dressing room. In contrast, DelaHoya was bone dry. Indeed, cameras in his dressing room showed the champion to be lounging around quietly in his designated area. Pacing his corner nervously, DelaHoya carried his concerted demeanor into the opening round, opting to open the fight slowly and on flat feet.
With Oscar off his toes, Quartey sought to establish his jab. Pushing his stick through Oscar's guard, and nicely hooking off it, Quartey moved forward without fear. Oscar's eyes were fixed on Quartey, and after seeing a bit of what Quartey had to offer, he fired a quick combination of his own, punishing Ike's body with quick shots. Quartey kept his defense high and tight, allowing Oscar to fire occasional flurries downstairs without a single flinch. Strictly sticking to his gameplan, Quartey continued pressing forward, establishing his own power with an occasional right hand that troubled Oscar and a jab that bloodied the champion's nose.
After 3 minutes of fighting, Quartey's strength and DelaHoya's speed counterbalanced each other nicely. But in the second round, DelaHoya showed none of the bouncing and movement that defines his best work. Instead he stood in front of Quartey, looking for the perfect opportunity to counter with a quick combination. At the end of the round, the fighters finally threw something other than jabs and briefly stood toe to toe. Oscar landed some sharp shots, but it was Quartey's deliberate punches that were having the greater effect.
If Oscar was concerned with Quartey's power before the fight, he became only more concerned after sampling some of it early. In the third, fourth and fifth rounds, Quartey jabbed and jabbed and jabbed while Oscar mostly watched. Occasionally, DelaHoya fired a quick counter right hand that surprised. Although the right hand has always been a weakness for Oscar, he was turning the punch over nicely...when he threw it, that is. In these early rounds, as the action was almost non-existent, the one constant was Ike Quartey's output. The challenger never stopped throwing punches (mostly jabs). At the end of five, the fight was shaping up to be a replay of Quartey-Lopez, with Ike controlling the pace with only a jab.
DelaHoya sensed his own malaise and opened the sixth by finally unleashing his trademark left hook. Less than a minute into the round, the punch caught Quartey stepping back and sent him backwards onto the canvas. Finally awakened, Oscar rushed at Quartey. After following up with a few more left hooks, however, he walked into a Quartey left hook and went down himself. Oscar beat the count easily, but was clearly shaken by the punch he had eaten. Now it was Quartey's turn to follow up, and he viciously tore into DelaHoya with rights and lefts. DelaHoya retreated without firing back, and sustained some serious punishment for the remainder of the round, losing it 10-9 to Ike on my scorecard.
A discouraged DelaHoya slept his way through the seventh round, barely throwing punches, barely moving around the ring, and looking much the worse for wear and tear. Oscar's left eye was badly swollen after the sixth, and he sought to protect it by withholding the left hook that had opened him up for the damage in the first place. Meanwhile Quartey's jab kept firing and he looked to be running away with the fight on the scorecards. After this abysmal round, Gil Clancy scolded Oscar by barking "You're fighting like you're stuck in mud. You got legs....USE 'EM!"
It was great advice from one of boxing's old sages, but along with other pleadings to "throw your combinations" or "move side to side", it had no effect on the champion's performance. In the eighth, Oscar showed similar apathy and Clancy was reduced to telling DelaHoya that "you have to at least show the judges that you want to win." DelaHoya followed that last bit of advice by trying to steal rounds with brief round-ending flurries. Often, these brief flashes of activity missed wildly, and Quartey's confidence grew. In between rounds, it was Ike that was calm as ever in his corner, showing little fatigue from a much ballyhooed 16 month layoff.
DelaHoya continued missing in the ninth round while Quartey was landing hard shots almost at will. Questions about DelaHoya's chin should cease after this round, as Quartey whacked Oscar repeatedly. DelaHoya was buckled more than once, and backed off his stance even more frequently, but still he survived.
The tide began to turn, at last, for Oscar in the tenth. The swelling of his eye was under control, and his left hook reemerged. Although he continued to miss Quartey frequently, the challenger finally began to tire. Sporting some eye swelling of his own, Quartey was getting hit more frequently, and DelaHoya actually began bouncing on his toes for the first time all night.
In the eleventh, DelaHoya's punches annoyed Quartey, who grinned with every landed shot. But again, like in so many rounds before, DelaHoya's flurries were separated by long stretches of inactivity, periods Quartey filled with a constant, if decreasingly effective, jab. Quartey was clearly tiring, and even looked as though he was beginning to coast to the decision he felt he had already secured.
DelaHoya sensed this too. Although his corner did not tell him that he needed a knockout for victory, he opened the final round as though he did. The Golden Boy ripped into Quartey with left hooks, and brought the capacity crowd to it's feet when he dropped Ike nearly a minute into the final round. It seemed like Leonard-Hearns all over again, and DelaHoya knew the script well. As Leonard had done 18 years earlier, DelaHoya trapped a wobbly Quartey on the ropes and unloaded on him. Trying desperately to end the matter at hand, DelaHoya swiveled Quartey's head with left hook after debilitating left hook. Referee Mitch Halpern was right on top of the action and looked to be on the verge of stopping the fight several times. Quartey kept throwing back, albeit barely, keeping Halpern at bay. The crowd was absolutely rabid as the fighters again stood toe to toe for what seemed like an eternity. Quartey was getting the worst of it, but would not go down. Finally, after punishing Quartey for a minute, DelaHoya tired and backed off his stance. Quartey fired his jab as the two exhausted fighters both waited for the final bell. When it finally rang, Quartey lifted his hands in victory, a gesture DelaHoya mimicked in a less enthusiastic manner.
Quartey had clearly won the fight. He had controlled the pace all night, he had thrown 80 more punches than Oscar, and he had dealt out the majority of the punishment. During long stretches of DelaHoya inactivity, it was Quartey who filled round after round with unanswered jabs. Victory seemed to be his.
And then they read the cards.
115-114 for Quartey, and then 116-113 and 116-112 for DelaHoya. Still champion, Oscar improves to a disputed 30-0/24 on the split decision W.
Let's not mince words: It was a robbery. Although I scored the fight 116-111 for Quartey, there were several close rounds....but not enough to give DelaHoya a 3 and 4 point victory. A dejected Quartey summed it up after the fight saying "I knew this would happen in Las Vegas."
Oscar DelaHoya came so close to getting everything he wanted, and instead he gets none of it. He sought credibility for taking on a tough opponent and he sought respectability by beating one of the division's best. But with this tainted decision, does he deserve any credit? Had Oscar finished Quartey in the twelfth, it would have been a storybook ending. If he had lost the decision we all know he lost, he would have at least gotten props for a good chin and game heart. But now, all we'll remember is the robbery. The ridiculous scoring of this fight hurts DelaHoya, who again will be labeled as a protected fighter. Unlike the decision he earned over Whitaker, which came down to a question of which you preferred: ring generalship or effective aggressiveness, this decision is ten times as bogus. DelaHoya was clearly beat, and even he knew it.
After the fight, Oscar added insult to injury by completely discounting any need for a rematch. Asked if he would fight Quartey again, DelaHoya claimed that he didn't think the fight was particularly exciting and that "there are bigger and better fights out there that the fans want to see." Which fights are those, Oscar? Oba Carr?!
Indeed Oba Carr will be Oscar's next opponent, having outpointed an aged Frankie Randall in the fight that preceded the main event. Steadily outworking the former 140 lb. champion, Carr punished Randall to the body over 10 uninspiring rounds. Randall, still possessing major league power, occasionally bothered Carr with punches, but never followed up when he scored. Unable to match the hectic pace that Carr tried to keep up, Randall looked to counter with power, but couldn't find the openings, at least not enough of them. Randall did knock down Carr in the seventh, but was not credited because the punch was thrown after referee Joe Cortez had called for a break. Carr repaid Frankie with a brutal rally the next round, but The Surgeon's solid chin saw him to the cards, where he lost a wide decision.
The Carr-Randall fight capped off a long delay in the broadcast, the result mainly of another quick knockout from WBC 122 lb. champion Eric Morales. Showing superior patience, Morales calmly and quietly waited for his opponent to make a mistake. In the third, he did. Morales pounced, throwing a vicious right uppercut and left hook that sent an unconscious Angel Chacon, who had never been down in a fight, through the ropes. Morales improves to 32-0/26 and is next scheduled to take on Wayne McCullough on May 8.
Also on the undercard were two sideshow events. Calling himself "King of the Four Rounders", Butterbean rearranged his anonymous opponents face before knocking him out in three. Preceding this bout was Mia St. John ("Queen of the Four Rounders") who set women's boxing back a year by showing little skill and serious hair problems en route to a victory that had no business being aired. St. John was only marginally better than her awful opponent. I never thought I'd say this, but "she's no Christy Martin".